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least terrible chains?

I try very, very hard to never eat at chains for a couple of reasons - first, the "food" is generally terrible, as well as the "value" of what you get for what you pay is dismal, there's also most likely something local that's 200% better (though, admittedly, not always). I could, and often do, go on, but...

IF I'm somewhere completely unfamiliar, or if there is just nothing else available, I will eat at chains as necessary for survival. Enjoyment? not so much.

I sort of like Arby's - some of the homestyle sandwiches taste like food.
I've had some decent meals, and at very decent prices, at 99.
I fully love Krispy Kreme, and can't fathom the apparent NE preference for the "yumm-o!" DD!

At the moment, those are all of the chains that I can think of that don't actually make me shudder with disgust.
WHY (I realize that this is a whole other thread) can't we in the US have fast food that doesn't totally suck?

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  1. I like Panera - I have lunch or dinner there once a week. I like Chipotle, but the portion (and calories) are huge, so it's probably less than once a month, that I'll eat there. And I like Outback (chicken sandwich/ sweet potato/salad - takeout for $22 for 2 people) - we do that a couple times a month. I've never had a bad meal at the Bonefish Grill, either.

    6 Replies
    1. re: jeanmarieok

      See, I've found Panera tolerable. The first time I went, I thought the menu was interesting. I do like the lemonade. The soups, to my taste, as heavily oversalted and too thick. The sandwiches sound like good ideas, but taste like no one has ever tasted them to see if they work. The sweet pastries are just poor to my taste.
      I haven't eaten at Outback enough to have an opinion, but $22 sounds high for that meal.

      1. re: sophie fox

        That's a lot of experience with Panera for trying very, very hard to never eat at chains...

        $22 is high for 2 chicken sandwiches, 2 baked sweet potatoes and 2 salads? Sounds pretty fair to me.

      2. re: jeanmarieok

        I never liked Panera - it was a favorite for some of my college friends, but I've found the food pretty mediocre. I do agree on Chipotle - the portion's easily enough for two meals, but it's pretty tasty and I like their emphasis on using humanely raised, hormone free, etc ingredients. And Bertucci's pastas aren't great, but their pizza's pretty darn good. (They'll never stand up to DiFara's, but they beat the hell out of Dominoes.)

        1. re: Emmmily

          Water logged processed chicken in the chicken salad - blech! I am not a fan of Panera. It's as if they put themselves out there as this fresh alternative to fast food, but in reality everything they serve is processed and over salted.

        2. re: jeanmarieok

          HMMM- never thought of Outback to Go. DW drives right past one on the way home from work, and we can order on line. Have to try that.

          1. re: jeanmarieok

            I do not care for their salads, their sandwiches are Ok, but their soup is fabulous in my opinion.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. For lunch, I find Steak n' Shake acceptable, especially if it included one of their shakes.

              For dinner, I've had some good meals at Longhorn Steakhouse. I find it superior to Outback in terms of food, price & service. They also make a very good burger.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cavandre

                Gotta agree on Longhorn Steakhouse, although I've heard quality can vary GREATLY by location. The one by me is very consistent though.

                1. re: Heatherb

                  Couldn't agree more on the quality variation at Longhorn. Vile steak in Leominster, MA (tough and stringy), soft and easy to cut in the Lowell, Mass area, 30 miles and a world of difference.

              2. In the past, I've had good experiences with Baja Fresh and Penn Station. My love of Penn Station shows the fact that it's the only place in my area to get a decent philly cheesesteak. A friend's dad used to own a Baja Fresh franchise locally, and I used to get huge burritos for free. I'm sure that helps my opinion, though I haven't had one in years. Ironically, the Baja Fresh in my area closed down (replaced by Penn Station), and my friend works for Chipotle, which is decent, but not as good imo.

                6 Replies
                1. re: madgreek

                  i wholeheartedly love baja fresh. my SO and i lived in CA several years ago, where baja fresh was ubiquitous. it was one of the things we missed most after moving to the east coast (that and in & out!). when we went skiing at tahoe two years ago, the first thing we saw when we got off the shuttle from the airport was a baja fresh. we looked at each other, our eyes lit up, and we literally ran for it. that salsa bar is going to be in my personally designed heaven. ;)

                  1. re: cimui

                    I also love Baja Fresh. The fajitas platter with pork carnitas is excellent. The salsa bar, in particular the pico de gallo and molcajete salsa, is superior.

                    1. re: cimui

                      Baja Fresh went downhill after Wendy's took them over.

                      1. re: DrBruin

                        I went to Baja Fresh a few times about four years ago and thought it sucked, DrBruin. But this past summer I was in the area and needed a quick lunch. Wow, I don't know whether our local one has a really good manager or the whole chain has improved but boy was I surprised. I don't usually expect chain restaurants to greatly improve but I'm now hooked on their shrimp tacos and fish tacos and my friend likes the americano steak burritos. Even the employees and atmosphere seem nicer. Whether I go for lunch or dinner (and I usually hit them up once a week), they have a steady stream of customers, about half take out and half eat in. And there is a taco bell, Chipote, and Moe's all less than two miles away from my Baja Fresh.

                        1. re: DrBruin

                          Agreed! I haven't had it in a while, because the last time I went there it was so bad. It's a shame, because it started out as healthful and delicious.

                      2. re: madgreek

                        Baja Fresh just opened two NYC locations recently and I had my first experience with them yesterday. Ultimately similar to Chipotle and Qdoba, but I liked the greater number of choices and the salsa bar.